The Holidays are not Sustainable

Skip this post if you’ve sworn off negativity, like some pure Christmas Jedi, but if you’re like many people I know, you sometimes (frequently) struggle when this time of year rolls around. We want to get in the spirit, feel festive, reach out, be generous, stay positive – but things seem to get in the way, and make it even harder to do that in December than during other times of the year. Even though it’s supposed to be a season for giving, everybody seems to want something. Shopping malls want your business. The people around he malls want your parking spot.* Manufacturers want you to buy their products. Various religions want you to celebrate their version of the holidays, or remember their particular “reason of the season.” Certain souls have some unique message to share with you (perhaps I am one), or a particular group that needs you to think of or pray for them. Family wants you to travel to where they are. Some of your family just wants you to drink spiked eggnog with them. I like those family members best (but you’re still not getting anything for Christmas – more on that later). Your neighbors probably want you to take this damn fruitcake off their hands, and maybe that IS giving, but, just so you know, that confectionary burden is going straight to my chickens if you send it my way. On second thought, if you’re going to send me anything, definitely send a fruit cake. It’s easily dealt with.

During the past two days, I helped take two sacks of toys that my son doesn’t play with as much to two families who wanted to use them. That was better than throwing them out for sure, but I wondered at how much effort and energy went into the toy production in the first place, and then I decided not to think about it, and just try to get into the spirit of the season. So I opened up a new toy from a relative, and breathed a sigh of relief: no batteries. However, many of the toys we still have require (and came with) batteries, which need to be replaced frequently. With all the power that’s been spent on whirling my son’s toys around, playing digitized music, and flashing lights, I can’t help thinking I could have supplied flashlights to many victims of the Nepal earthquake earlier this year. I didn’t buy these toys, and I’m very happy for my son that so many love him so much, and have the ability to try to enhance his life by sending us things. However, I am resisting thinking about how many resources are being poured into somehow making these holidays happier. It brings joy to my heart to watch him delight in the activity of these devices, but the thought that torments me is, as we try to educate, entertain, and care for our children, how short sighted are we being? To address only the tip of the (probably melting) iceberg: buying and discarding all these batteries, which I’m pretty sure are made with potent chemicals that cannot be easily re-integrated to the earth, cannot be a good way to provide a better future for our kids. 

I just threw away a 40 gallon trash bag stuffed with glossy, shiny paper, metallic strings and bows, plastic packaging, and lots and lots of cardboard. I have no idea what will happen to it now, but I know my worms can’t eat it without being poisoned, I shouldn’t compost it, and if I burn it I’ll have to scrub my chimney out even more next year. This is frustrating. 

I fully recognize that I’m having First World Problems here, but maybe because so many of us have these problems, and concentrate our energy on dealing with them, we are making things worse for the rest of the world. I think the plastic from these toys will probably end up in the ocean somewhere. The acid from the batteries will get shipped to a different continent and put in a landfill there, poisoning the land for the people around it, who are quite possibly much more dependent on the fertility of their own land to feed themselves than we are in America. The smog from the manufacturing plants that made all these “goods” for us in the first place is so thick it’s getting packed into bricks and put on display. (

 I don’t want my holiday cheer with a side of misery, but I also don’t know how to opt out of the rampant buy stuff-package it-ship it-throw it away cycle without becoming self-righteous and bringing those around me down, with my thoughts of trading ecological well-being and social justice for a really sweet fake (or real) Christmas tree.

I don’t want to bring anybody down, but I don’t see how I can avoid participation in all this lunacy without directly affronting the beliefs and enjoyment of those around me. I’ll settle for writing this, for now.

*I’ve avoided malls since 2012 for reasons that are entirely selfish myself – they now make me physically and psychologically uncomfortable. 

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Scott Church

Leadership, Permaculture, Technology, Wellness. These are things I want to bring into the world, so I write, talk, and think about them a lot. I want my son to grow up in a better world than the one we have, and I want to have fun creating it for him.

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